The midfielder is the most iconic position in all of Gaelic football but who is the best to ever play it?
There are a tonne of legends out there – Darragh Ó’Sé, Anthony Tohill, Jack O’Shea and Brian Mullins to name just a few among the many.
It’s an impossible question to answer and one that can hardly be measured but one thing is for sure, Brian Fenton is already in the conversation.
The Dublin number eight is the beating heart of this dominant side such is the role he plays in all areas of the field and the current Footballer of the Year can write his name into the history books this weekend with five Celtic Cross medals from five football championship campaigns.
It sounds absurd that at just 26, with a little shy of five full seasons behind him, that we are talking about the Raheny man as possibly the greatest midfielder to ever play the game. However, since he’s arrived on the scene, Dublin have proved unbeatable and he has proven unmarkable.
It’s been the case since the moment he made his debut in Clones when he scored what has now become a trademark Fenton goal minutes into his first start against Monaghan in the final round of the 2015 Allianz Football League.
The arrival of a star. Our last time in Clones saw this man make his full debut for Dublin. Brian Fenton hasn't looked back since. pic.twitter.com/MT0jedndOz
— Hill 16 Army (@Hill16Army) March 31, 2017
It really has become a trademark – that deep run from the middle of the field before coming onto the ball late and finishing to the net with that punt-pass-like strike.
Nearly five years on from that debut goal, we saw a carbon copy of it in Croke Park as Dublin emphatically killed off the Cork challenge in the Super 8s.
Brian Fenton with a fifth goal for Dublin! pic.twitter.com/oyA2YrL4Lq
— The GAA (@officialgaa) July 13, 2019
At the end of the day, these powerful runs are what should be expected of your midfielder but Fenton does it so consistently and with such aplomb that it is hard not to revel in it.
He repeated the feat in this year’s All-Ireland semi-final stepping inside a broken Mayo defence to kill off any lingering hope that Dublin might have met their match.
In truth though, that game was over a long time before Fenton rattled the net as they won the game with 12 minutes of football that embodied everything we love (and probably hate) about Dublin.
While it was the most perfect rendition of Gaelic football ever seen, credit must go to other stars like Con O’Callaghan who buried home two goals and Ciarán Kilkenny who produced mountains of unseen work.
When looking back, it’s easy to summarise that without the speed, power, skill and athleticism of Brian Fenton, Dublin would not have dominated Mayo in the same manner that they did.
During that period, Brian Fenton had possession of the ball on eight occasions and in between Con O’Callaghan’s two goals, Dublin scored 0-4 without reply with Fenton playing a direct role in all four scores.
He won primary possession from two kick-outs despite Rob Hennelly trying his best to keep the ball away from him. It’s a hard thing to do, though, when you have someone as powerful a runner and as athletic as Fenton who more often than not remains on neutral ground before striking late on the opposition’s restarts.
His catch from the restart following a score that he himself played a key role in creating was one of the greatest sights ever seen in HQ as the Dubs turned the screw on their once rivals.
Since that goal in Clones, Fenton has come up trumps for Jim Gavin’s side time and time again. His first season ended with a Man of the Match award in an All-Ireland final while his second ended with a second successive All-Star.
He couldn’t complete the three-peat of All-Star awards in 2017 which is the only slight blip on his resume alongside a league final defeat that year. However, he ‘bounced’ back with a completely electric 2018 where he dominated each game he played in from start to finish en route to a third All-Star and a Footballer of the Year award.
Fenton was on a different planet to the competition in 2018 with his lung-bursting runs from midfield complimented by his finesse upfront.
This score in last season’s Leinster final displays exactly that as he shows excellent speed of thought to turn away from two blind alleys before kicking a score with his weaker left foot that looked almost too easy on the eye.
Brian Fenton with a great point for Dublin! pic.twitter.com/V6CeyOvWWn
— The GAA (@officialgaa) June 24, 2018
Fenton has roared and roared throughout 2019 and had it not been for the phenomenal performances of his teammates Con O’Callaghan and Paul Mannion we’d probably be talking about him picking up back-to-back Footballer of the Year gongs.
He might not bring home the top individual award come the end of the year but if he has yet another huge game on Sunday and Dublin secure a first-ever five-in-a-row, we might just have to close the debate on who’s the greatest midfielder of all time.